State park visitors concerned over DNR’s decision to transfer lone park ranger

Frequent visitors at Yellow River State Forest say they are concerned, primarily regarding safety, now that the park's sole ranger has been transferred.
Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 5:27 AM CDT
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HARPERS FERRY, Iowa (KCRG) - Cindy Heffern, her daughter Rochelle Almazan, and their friend Kelli Boylen have all bonded over Yellow River State Forest for years.

”It is a kind of sanctuary,” Almazan said. “It is a place to get away from everything, to be with nature, to feel like you are safe.”

A safety they said is now in jeopardy: Yellow River’s lone park ranger is now gone for most of the time.

”The park ranger acts as a peacekeeper, law enforcement, and a mayor of a very small town with an ever-changing population,” Boylen explained.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to transfer the ranger to Volga River State Recreation Area, a park that is over an hour away. The ranger will now only spend 25 percent of his time at Yellow River, which is of concern to the women.

”Last year they estimated 65,000 people came to Yellow River State Forest,” Boylen added. “And to think all those people could come visit here with no one keeping an eye on things does not seem like a good idea.”

The women emphasized the fact there is no cell phone service at the park. Usually, the park ranger would do the rounds and assist people in a situation arose. Now they said they would need to rely on sheriff’s department, who often does not have a deputy less than a half hour away.

“Having a ranger present has literally saved lives, including evacuating during flash floods, assisting with lost persons, burns, fights, domestics,” Boylen said. “Without a ranger present, a camper must waste precious minutes navigating to the top of the hill to even get cell service to call 911, and then waiting for a volunteer ambulance service to form a crew and drive to the campgrounds.”

In a statement to TV9, the DNR said the transfer “was the result of DNR Parks, Forests and Preserves Bureau’s management analyzing statewide and regional staffing needs.” It said other positions, like the park manager, could keep the area safe as well. That park manager, though, would also be shared with the nearest state park, which means they would not be on site all of the time either.

A spokesperson with the DNR said they would reevaluate in the future if they see a need for more staff at Yellow River, but the women said they want to prevent the park from being damaged.

“Why establish this beautiful state forest if we are not going to put the time, energy, and funds to take care of it?,” Heffern asked.

Almazan also worries visitors will just stop coming to the park if they find out there is no one in charge of enforcing the law.

“People are coming from all over because they love Yellow River and, after hearing the news of losing a park ranger, we have heard many, many, many comments that people just do not feel safe to come here anymore,” she commented.

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